Hold on for ‘Don’t Breathe’

Tyler Mortimore, tmortimore@lmcexperience.com

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Genre conventions are tossed aside and predictability is out of the question in Fede Alvarez’s “Don’t B of his home, beastlike.

The casting is both some of the film’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. Zovatto is never quite convincing as Money and tends to come off as a poor man’s version of James Franco in “Spring Breakers.” Likewise, Minnette seems to have only practiced one scared face while prepping for his role and keeps it on for most of the movie. On the other hand, Levy is impressive and Lang, probably best known as the villainous Colonel Quaritch in “Avatar,” turns in a fierce, layered performance as the unnamed blind man.

Clocking in at a brief 88 minutes and spending no longer than 10 or 15 minutes before tumbling headlong into the nightmarish meat of the film, Alvarez has crafted a horror movie to put next to recent greats like “It Follows,” “Honeymoon” and “Green Room.” “Don’t Breathe,” a claustrophobic thriller from the team behind the 2013 remake of “Evil Dead.”

Three young home invasion artists sit in a rust-tinged muscle car in an all-but-deserted Detroit neighborhood, casing the only house in blocks with a lit porch light. Inside ais a blind veteran and the six-figure settlement he received after his daughter was killed in a car accident. Alex (Dylan Minnette) is less than enthusiastic about robbing a blind man.

“Just because he’s blind, it doesn’t mean he’s a saint, bro,” says the moronic, cornrowed white boy Money (Daniel Zovatto), a line that stems from a desperate reach for justification to a dramatic understatement.

Once inside, Alvarez’s camera inspects the house more carefully than its thieves. Things go sideways when the blind man (Stephen Lang) wakes up, and the burglars find they’re well out of their weight class.

From there, this taut movie wastes little time between anxiety-inducing episodes and Alvarez’s tricky camera placement — always putting the viewer one step ahead of the protagonists and several behind the villain — shows nervousness even in the few moments of calm. One fantastic scene comes when Lang cuts the power to his basement and begins to hunt Alex and his crush, Rocky (Jane Levy). It’s brings to mind the night-vision scene from “The Silence of the Lambs,” but like most of the movie, Alvarez puts his own unique spin on that iconic climax.

Another of the movie’s ingenious touches is Alvarez’s special care with the movie’s sound design — the film’s title isn’t a throwaway. The creaks and scuffs that put fear in the hearts of those who snuck out to party in high school are mortal dangers here, with Lang often stopping to listen and smell the air